(New York) - A pre-dawn attack on March 12, 2011, by Yemeni security forces and assailants on peaceful protesters in Sanaa killed at least two people and injured more than 100, Human Rights Watch said today.
Human Rights Watch called on countries that support President Ali Abdullah Saleh's government to immediately make any further military or security assistance contingent on the government ending the use of lethal force against peaceful protests. Human Rights Watch said the government should also take concrete steps to hold accountable officials at all levels responsible for the continued unlawful use of force.
"President Saleh has once again broken his promise to end attacks on peaceful protesters, and those who supply his government with weapons risk complicity in this bloodshed," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "Yemen's donors in the region and beyond need to make clear that financial and security assistance is contingent on ending these attacks."
In the latest incident in the capital, in the early hours of March 12 uniformed Central Security forces fired teargas, rubber bullets, and then live ammunition at demonstrators at the entrance to Sanaa University, a doctor and witnesses told Human Rights Watch. At least two people were killed from gunshot wounds and more than 100 were injured, the doctor said. A day earlier, Saleh told senior US counterterrorism advisor, John Brennan, that he hoped the opposition would engage in dialogue and gave "his public assurance not to use violence against peaceful protesters," according to a March 11 statement from the White House.
The March 12 clash began when security forces tried to push back protesters whose ranks had spilled beyond the confines of the university entrance to surrounding streets, witnesses told Human Rights Watch. When protesters did not leave, security forces opened fire with teargas and rubber bullets, and then with live ammunition, the witnesses said. The protesters began to throw stones at the security forces after they attacked them, the witnesses said.
The government has denied that its forces used live ammunition during the clashes.
One protester died at the scene after he was shot in the head, a doctor at the scene told Human Rights Watch. A second person, a bystander, was killed on al-Zubairi Street, a busy thoroughfare, when one of the bullets that security forces fired in the air to disperse crowds struck him inside his office, witnesses said.
The doctor said 50 of the more than 100 people were injured had been hit by live ammunition. Hundreds of protesters were exposed to teargas and several of them fainted, or suffered convulsions or breathing difficulties, the doctor said.
Assailants armed with sticks joined security forces in the attack, witnesses said.
"A group of security officers and thugs surrounded me and beat me with sticks," Abd al-Rashid al-Faqih, a human rights activist at the scene, told Human Rights Watch. "They were shouting, ‘Hey, dog,' and, ‘You call us thugs?'"
Security forces using lethal force have attacked peaceful protesters on numerous occasions since daily protests seeking Saleh's resignation began in mid-February, killing more than a dozen. International media and witnesses said security forces also opened fire March 12 in the cities of Taizz and al-Mukalla, and a doctor in al-Mukalla said that a teenage boy was shot dead during the attack in that city. In Aden on March 11, security forces again reportedly opened fire on peaceful protesters, and a doctor there said that he treated nine people, one for gunshot wounds, after that attack.